In the run up to World War II, Neville Chamberlain the British PM famously returned from a meeting with Hitler brandishing an agreement that was supposed to deliver “peace for our time” and stated that Britain and German would never go to war again. History tells how well that agreement worked out.
Yesterday, it was announced that the negotiating teams working on Brexit had arrived at what was called a “stable” text covering the withdrawal agreement (a document said to run to more than 400 pages). This was swifter than many people had anticipated and, in an ideal world, would mean that the deal could be endorsed by EU leaders at the end of the month.
Currently, the text of the draft is being kept confidential, but rumours suggest that it seeks to “backstop” the Irish border question by granting a UK-wide customs union. However, it makes it clear that Northern Ireland would in effect remain in the customs union and single market in perpetuity, something that the DUP have already said they couldn’t accept. The former Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson and Jacob Rees-Mogg, leader of the ERG faction within the Conservative party, have also stated that the (unseen) deal is unacceptable. Labour has wisely said that it will refrain from comment until it sees the proposal, but reiterated its position that the deal must pass it six tests – including the impossible element of delivering the same benefits as EU membership; something it plainly will not do.
Theresa May is seeing key cabinet ministers currently prior to a planned cabinet ministers’ meeting this afternoon. It remains to be seen if any of the five most hard-line Brexiters in cabinet will resign over the proposals, and what effect (if any) such a decision would have.
Brexit has moved into the “end game”. If the deal emerges unchanged from cabinet, May and her party whips need to try to get her MPs to accept it which looks impossible currently. The big question will be how many of her MPs will actually vote against the deal in parliament. It seems highly likely that the deal cannot be endorsed without support from opposition parties and it remains highly questionable whether enough could be found. If the arithmetic looks hopeless, will the PM press on regardless and submit a doomed deal to parliament? Whilst the defeat of the bill may not trigger a general election, it could well cause a leadership contest in her own party.
Sterling rose on news of the deal, but has dropped back again as the complexity of the situation has become clear to investors. If the deal is roundly rejected today, the currency will surely fall.